Teach farming in schools to tackle skills shortage, says NFU

The UK government must focus more attention on teaching agriculture in schools to help children learn where their food comes from and encourage the next generation of farmers.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) made the plea as it released a new report on Monday (24 May) which aims to highlight to MPs how farming can be used effectively in and outside the classroom to deliver crucial science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) lessons.

The NFU delivered live lessons to more than 223,000 primary school children during this year’s British Science Week (5-12 March).

See also: Farming course aims to inspire young people to join industry

This included lessons on lambing with Welsh sheep farmer Sioned Davies, vet school with industry-renowned farm vet Navaratnam Partheeban and a farm-themed climate science show.

With agriculture directly linked to many elements within the current Stem curriculum, from life cycles and habitats to food chains and food technology, children have been learning and applying key skills in stimulating, practical, real-life situations.

According to some estimates, shortage in Stem skills is costing UK businesses £1.5bn a year. As the country strives to meet net zero targets, filling roles in greener infrastructure and technology will become increasingly important in the coming years.

Teacher survey

A YouGov survey of 1,008 primary school teachers, carried out between 29 April and 9 May on behalf of the NFU, found overwhelming support for teaching agriculture to young children.

Overall, 89% of respondents believed teaching about farming at primary school is important, while 78% said they thought their classes would learn more about Stem subjects in a non-classroom setting.

NFU president Minette Batters said the NFU Education programme had shown how teaching Stem through real-life, practical situations that are relevant to the curriculum can deliver many benefits for children’s education and help them think about careers in farming.

“This clearly demonstrates why the government should recognise the role of agriculture in inspiring Stem learning, to help connect pupils with the country’s farming heritage, to build their understanding of food and how it’s produced, and to help promote Stem as the route to a viable and exciting career – not just within agriculture, but across the whole economy.”

Claire Hofer, science co-ordinator at Brompton Westbrook Primary School, in Gillingham, Kent, said the programme had helped children to understand that science “is not just something that happens in a science lesson, but it’s everywhere in the world around them”.

She added: “This project has helped them to understand and appreciate the science involved in growing their food and caring for their own plants, as well as considering costing and manufacturing.”

For more information on the free NFU Stem projects visit the NFU Education website.

How you can get involved

Farmers are role models and by talking about how they use STEM in their day-to-day work, the NFU says they can help show how agriculture can help plug the skills gap in this area.

The NFU is encouraging farmers to post images, videos or messages on social media from 24 May using the #BackBritishFarming hashtag. Alternatively, send your video via WhatsApp to 07436 188702 or email stuart.donaldson@nfu.org.uk.

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